Ernest Hemingway is one of the most distinguished and seasoned American writers of all time. He was born in Oak Park, Illinois in 1899 to parents Clarence Edmonds Hemingway and Grace Hall Hemingway. He grew up and obtained primary and secondary education in Oak Park. After high school, Hemingway decided to skip college and take on a career in Journalism for the local paper of the state of Kansas.
Writing for The Kansas City Star for six long months was Hemingway’s first job. His experiences as a journalist for the Star contributed to his writing styles – brief yet succinct and forceful. After the Star, Hemingway enlisted himself as a volunteer for the Red Cross Ambulance Corps during World War I. He came up close to the carnage and atrociousness of the war through his experiences and his involvement with army officers.
After being wounded in the war, Hemingway returned to Oak Park where he continued his writing career for the local paper in Toronto, while also busying himself with writing novels and short stories; three of his most popular novels being “A Farewell to Arms,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and “The Old Man and the Sea,” that were highly influenced by his experiences during the war and other personal and social events thereafter. (Wagner-Martin, 15-40)
Hemingway’s ingénue in writing earned him various awards including the prestigious Pulitzer Price for “The Old Man and the Sea” and a Nobel Prize in Literature for his numerous lifetime writing achievements. (Wagner-Martin, 16) It was Hemingway’s excellent and distinct writing style and structure that earned him regard and prestige. With this in mind, the remainder of this text will look into the established writing styles and writing structure of Hemingway, which earned him honor and esteem, as evident in his three most popular works as aforementioned above. In addition, the major themes, motifs, and symbolisms present in the three novels will be compared vis-à-vis in order to determine how Hemingway solidifies his ingenuity into writing.
In general, the writing style of Ernest Hemingway is considered by many of his readers and critics to be simple but articulate. A written text published by the University of North Carolina, which features the works of Hemingway, discusses the simplistic nature of his works. His choice of wordings in his works were observed to be selections of unadorned nouns, verbs, and adjectives, however, Hemingway was still able to articulate obscurely and vividly significant scenes which make up the essence of his works, particularly his novels. (Canada)
For Hallengren, a writer for the Nobel Foundation, who also wrote an article that features the Nobel Prize worthy works of Hemingway, Hemingway’s writing style may be labeled as “hard-boiled.” The “hard-boiled” style was attributed to the particular era in which Hemingway lived most of his life as journalist and a novelist. This particular style was described as an inhuman, unsympathetic, and callous way of expressing views and opinions, which led the term to symbolize how pieces of literature that are direct and simple, perhaps rather frank and guileless, actually are. (Hallengren)
In terms of the major themes that Hemingway uses to solidify his thoughts and ideas in his literary works, his were identified to be focused on depicting the lives of two particular groups of people. The first group of people consists of individuals who have grown insensible, unfeeling, and callous, due to the various circumstances in their lives that have caused them to lose their grip on the moral fiber that is supposed to rule or govern society and experiences that also caused them to lose heart and consequently teaching them to fend for their personal interests instead. The other group of people are those who live to fight against various circumstances and experiences that confront them.
In general, the first group consists of frail or weak people who cannot seem to get past through trials and hardships and refuse to face them courageously. They surrender to circumstances, which test their strength and will to stay true to themselves and functional and valuable to the society that they live in. On the other hand, the second groups of people are those who are willing to toughen hard times out in order to emerge victorious in the end having been able to prove something to themselves and the society. (“Ernest Hemingway”)
The aforementioned major themes, which Hemingway incorporates to his novels, is evident in the three widely acclaimed novels: “A Farewell to Arms,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” Lieutenant Frederic Henry (“A Farewell to Arms”), Santiago (“The Old Man and the Sea”), and Robert Jordan (“For Whom the Bell Tolls”), the protagonists in these three novels, qualify as individuals who represent those who fight courageously and determinedly against unwanted or unfortunate circumstances in their lives that seem to confront their ability to control and manage such situations. However, at one point in their lives, they allowed themselves to be defeated by the difficulties, challenges, and dilemmas that they cannot seem to overcome.
Lieutenant Frederic Henry served for the Italian Army during the First World War. Like what most people expect of uniformed individuals who work for the military, he was described as callous and insensitive in carrying out his duties and responsibilities. As the war progresses and the Italian Army was slowly lead to their demise, the soldiers who fought in the war started to feel how the world is crumbling down around them. Fear, uneasiness, and aggravation of what is to come since the defeat of the Italian Army were the main catalysts for Henry’s display of needless violence and betrayal. (Hemingway)
Santiago was an experienced fisherman. He believes in his skills and abilities as a fisherman and takes pride in his perception of his success. However, his self-assurance and pride is shattered by his failure of catching fish within the eighty-four days that he has set off to sea. He became the butt of all jokes in their village and from this unfortunate situation, he began to feel and endure the struggles and difficulties that challenge his ability to believe in himself and to appreciate the purpose or meaning of his life at an old age. (Hemingway)
Robert Jordan was an American working as a professor in one of the universities in the United States. It was during the time of the Spanish war when he decided to enlist for the Republican faction of the war. Jordan’s motivations to put his life at risk were his belief of the purpose or cause of fighting for the stand and convictions of the Republican side of the Spanish war – that is to fight against fascism. Jordan was assigned a bold and dangerous task that is to detonate explosives to annihilate a bridge utilized for transport by the Fascist camp that will consequently help the Republican side to get ahead of their game, which leads him to a series of circumstances and experiences that opens his eyes to the reality of the implications of the war. (Hemingway)
The situations that the protagonists in Hemingway’s novels find themselves in symbolizes the various personal struggles, difficulties, and challenges that individuals face everyday and the corresponding responses that people opt to act on in order to resolve them.
For Henry, it was fear and the unpredictability of war that led him to feel at war with himself and the situation that he finds himself in; for Santiago, it was his loss of self-assurance that left him questioning himself as a person; and for Jordan, it was the question of whether the cause that he supports is something that he really believes in. I believe that these particular situations are explicitly revealed within the novels. These situations are set under the context personal conflicts that all individuals face each and every day of their lives, if not at one point of their lives wherein they have no choice but to endure the results or consequences of unfortunate situations.
In each situation, the protagonists were shaken by the circumstances that creates a moral or ethical imbalance within themselves, stirring their values, beliefs, and personal constructs. These particular situations represent what was aforementioned of the two groups of people that constitute the major theme of Hemingway’s novel. At one point in each novel, the protagonist falls under the construct of the first group of individuals who cannot seem to get over the difficulties and challenges that they experience.
This seems to go on during the primary parts of the novel. However, on the latter parts, Hemingway’s motif seems to change to incorporate the characteristics described for the second group of people who decides to fight courageously in order to resolve problems and difficulties or to undo the faults or mistakes that they did due to their inability to get past their personal or moral struggles. (Meyers, 35-36)
Another theme or motif, as aforementioned, is the concept of love, acceptance, and sacrifice as the only way for redemption. Both Henry and Jordan fell in love with a women, which have led them to rethink all the singular details and situations that resulted to their dilemma. It seemed that loving allowed them to feel emotively and passionately about their real purpose, leading them to know what they should do in order to resolve their dilemmas. For Henry, it was his decision to leave the army, and for Jordan, it was his decision to make a sacrifice in order to prove to prove to himself the reason for his enlisting in the Republican side of the war. Santiago, on the other hand, redeemed his failures by being at peace with himself and accepting that situation that he was in at that point. (Hemingway)
Overall, in comparing the three novels of Hemingway, we arrive at the conclusion that although they were set in three different situations, subject to various struggles and difficulties, the central theme boils down to the personal struggles and moral dilemmas that allows individuals to commit mistakes and question themselves. However, in the end, love, acceptance, and sacrifice will always redeem us and will finally help us in letting everything fall into the right places at the right time.
Courtney from Study Moose